BRITISH GT SET FOR OPENING OULTON EASTER EGG-STRAVAGANZA
Easter just wouldn’t be the same without British GT’s annual season opener at Oulton Park, and fortunately 2018 is no different after a packed entry comprising 13 GT3s and 22 GT4s was confirmed for the Bank Holiday Weekend (March 31 & April 2).
The two 60-minute races staged on the 2.692-mile, 17-turn International Circuit nestled in Cheshire’s countryside will go some way to establishing the natural order in each class, both of which are awash with potential winners this year.
GT3: FACTORY STARS TAKE ON ESTABLISHED ORDER
Much has been made of British GT’s factory driver contingent this season but it’s the championship’s local stars that could shine brightest at Oulton.
Team Parker Racing endured a tough start at the same venue 12 months ago before Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris ultimately overcame Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen to win the 2017 Drivers’ crown. Three quarters of that rivalry remains intact this year, with Morris’ departure to Europe paving the way for Ryan Ratcliffe and Parfitt Jnr to rekindle a partnership that previously won 2013’s GT4 title.
Runners-up for the past two years, might 2018 be the season that Minshaw and Keen finally claim an elusive Drivers’ championship? They were certainly dominant 12 months ago at Oulton where their Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini took both victories in a variety of conditions. The crew also like sprint races, having won four of last season’s six hour-long encounters.
And what of Team Parker’s second Bentley driven by Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod? The pair notched up a breakthrough first British GT victory at Spa last season while the latter topped the championship’s Media Day timesheets before pacing pre-season Blancpain GT Series testing.
While the Drivers’ title once again evaded them, Barwell have added a third Huracan GT3 to this year’s roster in an effort to retain their Teams’ crown. 2004 champion Jonny Cocker returns for his first full-season assault since 2007 as co-driver to debutant Sam De Haan, while 2006 GT3 champion Leo Machitski partners Finnish ace Patrick Kujala.
Aston Martin once again holds the numerical advantage this year thanks to its five V12 Vantages, each of which features one of the manufacturer’s FIA WEC drivers. Jonny Adam stands head and shoulders above his factory counterparts in terms of British GT experience but begins his quest for a third GT3 title in unfamiliar surroundings after switching to Optimum Motorsport over the winter to partner Flick Haigh.
TF Sport’s two Astons feature 2016 FIA World Endurance Champions Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim alongside Derek Johnston and Mark Farmer, respectively, while reigning GT Cup champion Graham Davidson is partnered by former DTM driver Maxime Martin.
But perhaps the biggest talking point surrounds fan favourites Beechdean AMR and two-time British GT champion Andrew Howard, both of whom return after a year of international racing. Multiple Le Mans winner Darren Turner, who also claimed 2016’s ELMS title with Howard, is back in Beechdean colours for his very first full-season of British GT.
But it’s not just AMR with factory representation. Lee Mowle has drafted in Mercedes-AMG ace Yelmer Buurman after switching to ERC Sport, while reigning International GT Open Pro/Am champions Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell bring their McLaren to British GT for the first time. Indeed, it will be a 650S GT3’s first appearance since Bell won the 2016 season finale with Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse’s chassis.
The variety continues with another fan favourite, the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, which makes its full-season return for the first time in four years. RJN’s considerable experience of running the car will be vital to Struan Moore and Devon Modell who, as the category’s only Silver/Silver pairing, must carry more ballast than their Pro/Am rivals.
GT4: RECORD ENTRY SET TO ROCK OULTON
Eight manufacturers, 22 cars and 44 drivers: Oulton Park welcomes British GT’s biggest-ever GT4 entry this weekend and, unsurprisingly, it’s almost impossible to pick a winner. Still, there’s no harm in trying!
Let’s start with the established order.
Reigning Teams’ and Drivers’ champions HHC Motorsport have filled the void left by Europe-bound Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton by signing 2017 Ginetta GT4 Supercup champion Callum Pointon and his Danish co-driver Patrik Matthiesen who arrives as a Creventic 24H Series title winner. Both know their way around the G55, a model that has won British GT’s last two GT4 titles, while a second, Pro/Am entry, comprising Mike Newbould and Will Burns should also prove formidable.
The same can be said of reigning Pro/Am champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson who have never finished outside GT4’s overall top-two during their three-year British GT career. Victory at Donington Park’s 2017 season finale, as well as switching to McLaren specialists Balfe Motorsport over the winter, suggests the duo are ready to mount another challenge in 2018.
Fellow McLaren squad Tolman Motorsport has been chosen to lead the manufacturer’s Driver Development Programme this year after David Pattison and Joe Osborne turned heads in 2017. While victories eluded the pair on several occasions, their pace was never in doubt en route to second in Pro/Am and, in the latter’s case, a McLaren factory deal.
Following two largely frustrating seasons, Team Parker’s Nick Jones and Scott Malvern have switched to the new-for-2018 Mercedes-AMG GT4. The pair know each other and the team well, and the car – one of three new models contesting this year’s championship – certainly looks like a competitive prospect.
There’s also continuity at UltraTek Racing Team RJN where Kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman have joined forces after spending 2017 on opposite sides of the garage. Neither driver’s pace is in doubt and, if their updated Nissan 370Z GT4 delivers, both could become a regular fixture at the front.
Just two Aston Martins – a former British GT4 staple – are entered this year, and both feature Academy Motorsport logos. Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones claimed back-to-back pole positions in last year’s final two races and will be desperately hoping to convert that obvious speed into results this time around.
But what of the (many) new faces in new places? There’s simply too many to mention them all, while the sheer variety makes it impossible to safely predict who might emerge as bona fide race winners.
If points were accumulated for turning heads then Invictus Games Racing’s Jaguar project might have already cleaned up! The team’s two bespoke F-TYPE SVR GT4s are unique to British GT and also play an active role in the rehabilitation of wounded, injured and sick veterans of the British Armed Forces. Former Royal Marine, Major Steve McCulley, and RAF Sergeant Ben Norfolk, are the team’s designated Ams at Oulton where they’re joined by Pro co-drivers Matthew George and Jason Wolfe, respectively.
Century Motorsport has also entered a GT4 model competing for the first time this year, and if its two BMW M4 GT4s go as good as they sound then the outfit should be victory contenders from the start! Bens Green and Tuck drive one of the two cars, which topped the GT4 times during Media Day at Donington Park.
There’s also the Toyota GT86. Well, two of them to be precise, both of which are entered and built by Steller Motorsport. Like the Jaguars, British GT will be the re-engineered model’s only full-season destination in 2018 after previous iterations made sporadic appearances from 2014 onwards. Steller’s youthful line-up – featuring British GT’s youngest-ever driver, Tom Canning – certainly serves notice of their intentions this year.
Elsewhere, another McLaren factory driver – Ben Barnicoat – makes his British GT bow alongside Adam Balon who won on debut with Track-Club at Oulton Park 12 months ago. 2016 champions Team HARD. Racing will be eager to begin their campaign on the front foot after a troubled title defence, while Fox Motorsport’s Mercedes-AMG could also be a contender in the hands of Mark Murfitt and Michael Broadhurst.
Both of Monday’s 60-minute races will be streamed live on the championship’s Facebook page and website, as well SRO’s GT World Youtube channel. But remember: nothing beats actually being there! Discounted tickets can still be purchased in advance until midday Wednesday, while children aged 13 and under can attend for free all weekend. Visit www.oultonpark.co.uk for details